Player Profile: Stuart Larner
Name: Stuart Larner
A player, gentleman, and enthusiastic student of the game.
The following people I have seen play and got their autographs: The late celebrity Sir David Frost, a Lord’s Taverner , with a long slow, langurous medium pace run-up; the South African Graeme Pollock with his lovely classical cover-drives; the late Denis Compton with his fluid roly-poly leg glances and dabs; Jim Laker with his inscrutable facial expression, and rasping spin of voice; and Lord Colin Cowdrey whose autograph I narrowly missed, but who hit sixes so effortlessly it seemed he was using a feather as a bat.
Best ABCC moment so far
Helping to beat Hirst Courtney and facing their seam bowler who opened my eyes by imparting the most remarkable swerve in two or three directions on one delivery.
The Best Village Tea
Two meals stand out: both were seated affairs years ago. The best tea was in a club in West Yorkshire , where we were all seated in a line down the table and were served silver service by waitresses. The best, and only cricket lunch, was at Yorkshire Gentlemen where we were served port at lunch by waiters.
Personal Insight: meeting my batting hero.
I have met my hero only once, and in that moment he set my technique for the rest of my life. Yet, for over forty years I never knew his name. I had his autograph, but I couldn’t read it.
I remember meeting him when, with my school friends autograph-hunting, we were waiting in the car park outside the back of the county ground pavilion for the last players to emerge from the club buildings after an exhibition match in early September 1964 . The Lord’s Taverners had taken on a Rest of the World XI. Dexter had made a tremendous 86, pulling fast bowlers disdainfully for six over the stands and into the river at the back. Our gang of eight was the dedicated core of the ardent followers and we awaited Dexter especially.
Suddenly there shouts from the back of our group: “There’s one!”, and “Autograph mister, please?” We all gathered feverishly in awe round a man whom I did not recognise and who had appeared unexpectedly from somewhere behind us. He was reluctant to sign at first, but he relented when he saw the fervour of our support.
I scrutinised what he had written, but I could not read his signature. It looked like W Woollens, or W Willans. So, rather than committing an act of gross impoliteness and showing my ignorance of the game in front of him and my friends, I decided to ask him if he could give me any tips on technique. Depending on whether he gave me batting, bowling, or wicket-keeping tips, I would be able to deduce his identity.
“Well, yes, I’ll tell you what I try to do,” he said. “When it’s really getting buzzing, I clear my mind of the last one, and then I look into the distance, and concentrate on the one coming.”
He took up a two-eyed right-handed stance against an imaginary fast bowler with left foot facing down the wicket, and pointed into the distance to his left. “I follow it all the way down with my eyes, and as it goes past me I lean slightly towards it, then ’dosh-chit!’ and into the gap!”
He turned his wrists at the last moment and pointed in front of him and to the side between fourth slip and gully.
I was so impressed by his advice that I used it in my next school game. I never previously had any talent at batting, and going in at number eleven, was often out for a duck. Yet I found that on that day I was able to keep my wicket intact against some terrifically fast bowling, and allow the captain to slowly accumulate the winning runs at the other end. Since then whenever I had to face fast bowling the technique helped me focus on the ball. I gained confidence that I could achieve results with a minimal flick of my wrist. Many grateful times I heard the beautiful “Dosh-chit” sound of ball on pad and outside edge as I carefully guided it to run down for four past the diving slips and gully.
However, I must admit, that after he had left us that night, and after all that he had said to inspire us, our group could still not deduce his identity.
For over forty years I used this technique and would never have known who he was had it not been for a chance encounter with an old school friend in the street. He used to have a Saturday job that we all envied at the cricket ground in the 1960’s. He was paid ten shillings to turn the handle of an inky duplicator to print off match scorecards. Typically, when he had done five hundred or so he was allowed to watch the match free. I asked him if he remembered the day that Dexter made 86. He said that he clearly did, and I followed it up by asking him if he remembered a name on the scorecard that day by the name of W Woollens or W Willans.
He thought carefully and said, “I don’t think so. What did he look like?”
“Perhaps a few inches taller than you with a green jacket on.”
“And from what exit did he come out of the building – players, or officials?”
“Well, that’s the curious thing,” I said. “He seemed to come out of the car park behind us, not out of the back of the pavilion. I have often wondered since whether he was a ghost.”
“Oh!” he laughed. “That was Willie Williams, the car park attendant .You know, there were no automatic barriers in those days. It was just a man with a money bag round his neck and a roll of tickets standing at the gate. He was famous. No matter how busy it was on match days there were never any queues at his gate, unlike the others.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“It was all due to his technique. When things were really busy he would first clear his mind from the previous customer and then watch for the next one coming in the distance. He would stand sideways on and watch the car approach all the way up to him and just when it drew level with him he would quickly reach into his bag with the change and a ticket. ‘Dosh’, then ‘chit’, and then with a flick of his wrists he pointed past the entrance, saying ‘… into that gap there please, sir!’”
My cricket novel, “Guile and Spin” is available as an Amazon Kindle, and as a paperback. It tells the story of a man who hates cricket and is enticed to resurrect a cricket club as part of a money scam by a professional woman cricketer. The book shows the progress of the club through the matches in a season including pre-season nets, and the mystical words of wisdom of an Indian Sikh coach.